Records on deletion of text messages by a government minister and policy on retention under FOI

Minister Michael McGrath was advised not to comment on the controversial deletion of records by Simon Coveney even as his officials were briefing colleagues that text messages had always been subject to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

Mr McGrath – whose Department of Public Expenditure are responsible for FOI – was told that if asked about Zapponegate and the deletion of text messages, he should say “I am not going to comment on the specifics of a particular case”.

At the same time, his officials were telling colleagues across the civil service that there had never been any doubt over the inclusion of text messages under the legislation.

Mr Coveney caused significant controversy in the late summer after saying that he deletes text from his phone, at first saying it was for storage reasons, but later clarifying that it was over hacking concerns.

An updated briefing on record retention was delivered to civil service decision makers in early September with one slide saying: “It is well established that text messages have always been a ‘record’ for FOI purposes.

“This may include messages held on non-official systems such as personal devices, WhatsApp, Gmail, etc.”